Melissa Perri

Product Manager, UX Designer, speaker, and coach

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON March 07, 2017

Discussion

Melissa Perri@lissijean · Founder, ProdUX Labs & Product Institute
Hi - I'm Melissa Perri, founder of Produx Labs and Product Institute, an online school for Product Managers. I have helped thousands of Product Managers worldwide master their craft, and I'm currently writing a book on it called "Escaping the Build Trap" with O'Reilly. I'm very excited to be chatting with you today - Ask me anything!"
Ben Tossell@bentossell · newCo
What are some of the myths and misconceptions around Product Management?
Melissa Perri@lissijean · Founder, ProdUX Labs & Product Institute
@bentossell Ooh there are tons! One of the biggest ones though is that the Product Manager is the sole person responsible for coming up with all the ideas on what to build. This is a problem on both sides - for companies and individuals. Many people get into this role thinking they'll be like the "Steve Jobs" person of the company who will get to put all their bright ideas in action. In reality, many times lower level Product Managers do not have much of a say in what they get to build (I think this is wrong btw) and most of the job is spent getting buy in from Stakeholders or writing requirements. On the flip side, many companies really do not understand what Product Management so they put us in roles that are more project management related (organizing meetings, figuring out when things will be shipped, writing requirements for developers). Then the product suffers because no one is managing it holistically, and instead running around to react to whatever management is throwing at them. Another one too that no one expects getting into this role is how much of it is trying to persuade people. I'd say 60-80% of the job everyday is trying to convince people that what you are doing is the right thing to do. It's fielding a crazy number of requests from people all around the company, saying no a lot, trying to understand people's behaviors so you can communicate with them. So much people management and soft skills go into this role.
Jake Crump@jakecrump · Community Team with Product Hunt
How does someone just starting out, get into Product Management?
Melissa Perri@lissijean · Founder, ProdUX Labs & Product Institute
@jakecrump Try to get your hands dirty. Build something yourself - whether it's a side project or something to help out a friend. Make a portfolio out of the steps you did to build it and use that to find a job at a bigger company. It's pretty hard to break into product management these days without a background in it, but I find people who demonstrate they can think critically about products and try their hands at it have an easier time.
Mike Coutermarsh@mscccc · Code @ GitHub
Also - would love to know what your day-to-day is like on balancing being a founder & writing a book. Are you writing everyday, weekends only? I imagine is really tough!
Melissa Perri@lissijean · Founder, ProdUX Labs & Product Institute
@mscccc Haha. Oh... my day. My days are kind of crazy and never the same. Honestly our school productinstitute.com has taken up most of my time as well as the consulting I do, so I squeeze in writing here and there. Long plane rides are awesome for it. I just restructured the book on my last flight to California, so it's going a bit better now. I also like working on weekends if I have nothing else to do. I would always prioritize spending weekends with friends and family but if I have nothing going on during a Sunday afternoon, I'll sit down for a few hours and write. I found that accountability is key here. Two of my colleagues and myself are in a book club and we share what we are writing with each other every Tuesday. Knowing that I have to have something ready for them is keeping me on track.
Ayrton De Craene@ayrton · Code @ Product Hunt
What has most surprised you about starting your business? Also what has been the biggest challenge to overcome and how did you do it?
Melissa Perri@lissijean · Founder, ProdUX Labs & Product Institute
@ayrton I think the biggest surprise was that I started a business. I started Produx Labs when I came home from a startup accelerator in Italy. Honestly, I was trying to find another startup to work for but I had such a crazy break up with my founders I wasn't ready to jump into anything else yet. I threw up a quick website that showed the workshops I did and the services I offered - UX design & Product Management consulting. People started calling me because of the speaking I was doing. That shocked me more than anything. At the beginning, everyone wanted UX help but not much product help. I did a lot of UX design work then, but also lots of workshops and teaching for the public. I kept seeing the product management piece was super broken though in many of the companies I worked for, but no one cared. That was a very frustrating time for me because I wasn't doing exactly what I wanted to. Now, it has shifted as more companies are moving to Agile. They realize the Product Management piece is broken. So business took off and then I had the problem that I had to be everywhere at once. This was our biggest challenge. I was flying to 12 different countries as a year and on the road about 1/3 of the time (and this is not business class travel, this is like cheap travel in economy class, living out of cheap AirBnBs to make the company profitable). I was getting sick a lot and very tired. So I thought about how I could start building something that did not require me to be in person all the time - that's where the school came from. I took all the classes I repeated everywhere and turned it into an offering where I did not have to be in person. Now I still travel but I can be a bit more selective and not spend months away from home (Tokyo next!)
Mahadev Majaladar@realmahadev · Blogging @ https://dmarketer.com
How do I explain product specification to Remote Team in well manner?
Melissa Perri@lissijean · Founder, ProdUX Labs & Product Institute
@realmahadev I think it's important to share a common understanding about what you are working on with remote teams. My best team I ever worked on consisted of me in NYC and my developers in Nashville. We used JIRA to create tasks, but we got together very often to talk through our work. They showed it to me early before they were done to make sure they were on the right track. We'd fix things on the fly if not. At the beginning though, I put all the specifications in large documents that were like 40 pages long. No one read them. Actually, they laughed at me when I asked if they read them. So as we became more Agile, we ditched the documents, had more discussions about the work, and then wrote down just enough to remind ourselves. We also started sharing more pictures and diagrams. We never had a problem after that. I find that real time communication is really everything when it comes to remote teams.
Mahadev Majaladar@realmahadev · Blogging @ https://dmarketer.com
Thanks @lissijean
COSTAS ANDRIOPOULOS@candriopoulos · https://medium.com/strictly-curious
Dear Melissa, Which are the websites that you most frequently visit fro product management issues? Thank you.
Melissa Perri@lissijean · Founder, ProdUX Labs & Product Institute
I follow people more than I follow websites. David Bland, Teresa Torres, Jeff Patton, Ellen Chisa, Barry O'Reilly, Des Traynor, Laura Klein, Cindy Alvarez, Ken Norton, and Jeff Gothelf are some of my favorites. They have great articles online.
COSTAS ANDRIOPOULOS@candriopoulos · https://medium.com/strictly-curious
@lissijean Thank you Melissa for your insightful answer.
Vinit Agrawal@vinitagrawal · Co-Founder at Tars (HelloTars.com)
Hi Melissa, I think one of the biggest problems i face on a daily basis is to prioritize the tasks involved while building and maintaining a large software product. Which also has a primary Front-end part. And we all come up with our own task prioritization framework, either explicit or implicit. I am curious to know, if you have any suggestions on how to make this task prioritization framework a bit more concrete and explicit and which takes into account the business data.
Melissa Perri@lissijean · Founder, ProdUX Labs & Product Institute
@vinit_agrawal1 prioritizing tasks is always tricky with product management. I would really look into Cost of Delay, which I have found to be really useful for prioritization. Joshua Arnold and Ozlem Yuce have great resources on it at blackswanfarming.com. There is also the CD3 model which takes Cost of Delay and makes it into a prioritization framework.
Mahadev Majaladar@realmahadev · Blogging @ https://dmarketer.com
Should I focus on only one core product feature or multiple? E.g. Hotjar provides heatmap, form analysis, conversion funnels which are fine because these features are related to each other. But it is also offering features like feedback polls, survey, recruiting user testers which are I think completely different than it's previous analytics features.
Melissa Perri@lissijean · Founder, ProdUX Labs & Product Institute
@realmahadev I think it's about what your goals are for the company. I can't say why Hotjar made the decision to go into that, but they might have to break into new markets. I would focus on making your core product awesome - do everything you can to make it optimized and successful. Then turn your attention to other products that might work well with your strategy.
Chad Whitaker@chadwhitaker · Product Designer at Product Hunt 👋
Hi Melissa! Do you advocate doing heavy user research and user interviews around an image prototype before building? Or do you prefer the idea of building a solid MVP and collecting larger amounts of feedback with a potentially larger pool of actual users?
Melissa Perri@lissijean · Founder, ProdUX Labs & Product Institute
@chadwhitaker I think prototypes only can test so much, so while I think they are great tools, they have to be used to answer the right questions. Prototypes can answer questions like "is this intuitive", "are all the necessary items there", "can the user achieve the goal in this user flow". They cannot answer questions like "Do my users have this problem?" and "Does this solution produce the desired outcome for my user and solve their problem?" or "How delightful is this solution for my user?" They really need to interact with it to answer those questions. If you're answering those questions, I would say you need to experiment more and get something into the hands of users to try.
Braxton Huff 🙌🏻@3raxton · Creator traveling the world 🙌🏻
Being an aspiring UX/UX Designer with an interest in startups, what is the best way to display a portfolio when applying for jobs? Furthermore, to make it to the position of a UX Designer what kind of schooling did you go through?
Melissa Perri@lissijean · Founder, ProdUX Labs & Product Institute
@3raxton Well, I'll answer your second question first. I went through no schooling to become a UX Designer. I was an engineer, but I was decent at Photoshop. I learned on the job. Now I never use Photoshop :) First question - I would always focus on the why with UX design. What was the problem you were solving? Why did you go with this solution? Who are your users? Ian Fenn is actually writing a book on this at lobsterbook.com
ishwarya srinivas@ishwaryas · Product manager
Hi Melissa..What is the good tenure for a product manager with a particular product in your opinion? Is it true that the longer you stay with the product, you find it harder to focus on the user and try to ship features that hardly get used?
Melissa Perri@lissijean · Founder, ProdUX Labs & Product Institute
@ishwaryas I don't know if it's harder to focus the longer you stay, but I always think it's useful to get different experiences. Since I've worked in many different places, I found it helps me take a step back and analyze things more objectively. You work with different teams, stakeholders, and processes and learn that your way is not the only way. I think that's the benefit of trying new things in product management.
jerod moore@jollymonatx · Co-Founder goKittr & Coffee hunter
How do you approach building consensus around a product when often times key executive decision makers have passionate reactions to changes and questions?
Melissa Perri@lissijean · Founder, ProdUX Labs & Product Institute
@jollymonatx data, data, data. Executives like data. I would start by making sure the desired outcomes of the product are well understood by everyone. What is the goal? Then, try to gather data through experimentation to show people that the product will achieve that goal. Having a debate about small things? Ask the executives how those small things could help you get to the goal. I find these debates come up a lot mostly because there is no north star - no goal bringing everyone together. That's why I always start there in my classes. It probably won't end all your debates (people are really passionate!) but it will certainly help.
jerod moore@jollymonatx · Co-Founder goKittr & Coffee hunter
@lissijean I LOVE the "north star" concept! I'm gonna borrow it. Thanks!
Diogo Ribeiro Novaes@diogonovaes · Product Manager at GirlsAskGuys
How much technical knowledge should a Product Manager aspire to have? Meaning... Should a Product Manager be able to code or design?
Melissa Perri@lissijean · Founder, ProdUX Labs & Product Institute
@diogonovaes I do not think it's necessary for Product Managers to code or design, but they should know what each of those disciplines entail to work better with their peers. For example, a PM should know how software gets built and why things take as long as they do. If you pair with a developer, you can learn this in a day and gain better understanding. For design, if the PM focused on seeing if designs solve a goal rather than judging them on "are the beautiful" they will add more value there. The designers are usually trained in this, no need to overlap skills. I think it's just about having enough knowledge to be able to communicate and understand.
Diogo Ribeiro Novaes@diogonovaes · Product Manager at GirlsAskGuys
Great. Thanks. :)
Melissa Perri@lissijean · Founder, ProdUX Labs & Product Institute
Thank you everyone for all the questions! It's been great chatting with you!
Daeshawn Ballard@imdaeshawn · Avid learner
Hi Melissa! How does a company decide whether they need to redesign an element of their product or just better educate users of its function? Looking forward to you answer, thanks!
Melissa Perri@lissijean · Founder, ProdUX Labs & Product Institute
@imdaeshawn I don't like the idea of "educating users". Like, no user is using your product to be educated. They want to get shit done. If users are not using your product, it's either because they don't need it or they can't understand it. If they can't understand it, I would highly suggest trying to redesign it so they could. I see many companies waste tons of money on walking users through how to use complicated products. If they redesigned them in ways that were intuitive, they could cut down on costs to do this. Also sometimes you don't have to do a huge redesign! It could take just better microcopy or small little design elements that indicate to do something to help people along. Don't always jump to the biggest project, start small and measure the change.
Daeshawn Ballard@imdaeshawn · Avid learner
@lissijean Thank you for your insight and teaching me something today.
Karen Pouye@karen_pouye · digital producer_whizbang
Hi Melissa, Maybe this question is not applicable to your situation as it's not so much about actual product design but rather networking with product designers/producers'..but I'll give it a shot. We've just launched our new startup which is an online product support platform. It's purpose to become the digital replacement for written instructions. We provide instant access (barcode scanning) to the best set-up videos for any product on the market (if it has a video). Our biggest challenge is to let manufacturers/distributors know that we exist. Do you have any suggestions on how we might get in touch with product producers? Who would we approach (in regards to title)?
Emily Hodgins@ems_hodge · Operations @ Product Hunt
Hi Melissa thanks for joining us today. What is the most common piece of advice you find yourself giving to Product Managers at Product Institute?
Melissa Perri@lissijean · Founder, ProdUX Labs & Product Institute
@ems_hodge I tell them to take a step back all the time and diagnose the problem. It's so easy to get swept up in trying to react to things that are thrown at you, and we don't ever stop and say "am I doing the right thing?" When it feels overwhelming, take a break. Give your mind a rest for a minute, and then go back to the problem. Do you know what the problem is? What do you need to learn? Focusing on these questions will give you direction when building products, and move you from reactive mode to strategic mode.
Jake Crump@jakecrump · Community Team with Product Hunt
What’s you morning routine?
Melissa Perri@lissijean · Founder, ProdUX Labs & Product Institute
@jakecrump I'm actually terrible at morning routines. I know there's this wave of articles on how important it is, but the mornings for me are hard. I wake up before the alarm, turn off the alarm, browse twitter for about 30 minutes until I can see straight, check email to make sure nothing is on fire (a lot of my students and clients are in europe), get dressed, eat breakfast, walk the dog, and head to the office. Sometimes I take a gym class before work too. I'm still figuring this out :)
Mike Coutermarsh@mscccc · Code @ GitHub
Hi Melissa! What's the one thing you've done in your career so far that scared you the most? What ended up happening?
Melissa Perri@lissijean · Founder, ProdUX Labs & Product Institute
@mscccc I think the scariest thing was quitting my job and moving to Italy to start a company. I have never lived more than 4 hours from NJ where I grew up, and I always was very focused on having a full time job so I could save money and be stable. The company failed, but I learned that I could do my own thing, and I could live away from NYC for a while. I'm still trying to move back to Europe for a bit :) Learning to take that risk was a big catalyst for what I'm doing now.